When the U.S. Department of Agriculture went dark this week due to the partial government shutdown, phones lit up at commodities firm Urner Barry.
The USDA typically provides quotes on beef, pork and chicken prices, but 156-year-old New Jersey-based Urner Barry quickly became the go-to source for livestock traders searching for market quotes.
"It's certainly been more active around here," said Jim Kenny, director of business development for the firm.
Urner Barry is not alone. The shutdown has elevated the profiles of companies that sell data similar to that which the government normally provides and boosted their subscriber lists.
Market participants are scrambling to find reliable sources for information that can make a difference between profit and loss as they bring corn, beans, or cattle to market.
The shutdown is shedding light on the quality of privately-produced data and giving some providers a chance to position themselves as substitutes for the taxpayer-financed variety.
The phenomenon has affected more than just the commodities sector. Financial markets, which rely on government reports including unemployment, were adjusting to a constrained information flow this week. The shortfall put the investor spotlight on vendors such as Automatic Data Processing, which produces a private-sector version of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly jobs report.
The Labor Department on Thursday delayed its employment report for September due to the shutdown and said a new release date had not yet been set.
The agricultural markets stand alone, though, in their reliance on a steady stream of government data, some of it published on a daily basis. Daily USDA market reports are used by meat packers to determine how much they pay livestock producers for their cattle and hogs. They are among thousands of government reports issued in varying frequencies, among them estimates on planted crops, estimated yields, harvested acres and livestock being fattened for slaughter.
Agencies suspended many of their data releases after the shutdown began on Tuesday when lawmakers failed to settle a dispute in which Republicans are demanding the dismantling of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.
Thursday came and went without previously scheduled USDA data on weekly export sales, and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission did not issue weekly data on Friday detailing positions held in commodity markets.
The companies stepping into the government data void tout vast reservoirs of pricing information and industry contacts as selling points for their services. However accomplished they may be, none are considered as definitive as the government reports.